For the last several years it has been my pleasure to write a Christmas story for my Children, Nieces and Nephews. When we meet at my Mom and Dads house on Christmas morning I get to read the story to them.
This year, I felt obliged to share the story. (We have been extremely busy and I was only able to complete the rough draft so please forgive the lack of polish on the story.) From all of us at the Suttles Home to all of you… Merry Christmas! And we wish you the best for the following year.
The “Christmas Special” Loaf
You will never catch me you big nosed Galute!
Oh yeah Sis, well you can’t run forever.
Maybe not, but I can run longer than you can.
Horace and Hannah were chasing each other through the trees playing a game of tag. Hannah was still just a little faster than Horace but she could tell she would not be able to outrun him for long. His short little legs pumped wildly and Hannah could see that his pants were already starting to high-water on him. She remembered when their older brother, Hadrian went through what Mama called a growth spirt. His pants grew shorter and his strides grew longer. At one point she had been able to almost keep up with Hadrian but when his legs lengthened even though he looked like a goose flopping around, he was definitely faster. She knew It was only a matter of time until the same thing happened to Horace. She had decided to take every advantage of her younger brother while she still could.
Horace on the other hand, was clueless as usual. As far as he was concerned, Hannah would always be better at everything… and he hated it! Everything he did was compared to Hadrian and Hannah even if he was the only one making the comparison. Right now, all Horace could see was Hannahs pony tail flapping behind her as she managed to stay just out of reach. Just then he found a burst of speed and lunged but his hopes of catching her were dashed. Hannah, more out of blind luck than skill had zagged to the left at just the right moment and Horace fell flat on his face. He felt his lower jaw dig into the dirt as he slid across the grass. Hannah, having heard the crash, turned to inspect the damage. With more pride than she cared to admit she asked Horace if he was ok. Horace did not respond. She walked closer and bent down to see if he was still conscious. She placed her hand on his shoulder and rolled Horace over.
Horace, ever the Clown, dramatically rolled onto his back and flailed his arms to the ground. Hannah knew then that he was fine but she could not help playing his game. She always loved playing his games.
I dot woow…Horace was trying to say something but she could not understand him.
Hannah trying to understand him, “What did you say?”
Horace rolled his head to the side, spit the grass and most of the earth out of his mouth, I dot woow.
Hannah, confused, What?!
Horace spat the rest of the soil out of his teeth.
He opened his eyes and looked at his left hand resting on her knee. Then as he looked back into Hannah’s eyes a smirk slowly grew across his face. “I got you!”
Hannah realized she had been played but before She could react, Horace leapt to his feet and raced away. He knew that not only was she faster than him NOW she would be mad too! Weighing his options, he dashed into the forest. He was hoping that at least in the woods he would be able to avoid her Sisterly affectionate blows that he had received so many times before. They both knew that she never intended any harm, it was really more of an open handed slap than a hit but they both enjoyed acting like she was being vicious. So Horace raced through the trees with Hannah hot on his heels. Hannah knew that her Dad had told them many times that running through the forrest was a dumb thing to do so she held back a step or two. She suspected that, as usual, Horace did not think before acting so she was pretty sure that all of Dad’s warnings about the dangers of running in the woods had been forgotten.
She was right, Horace had completely forgotten their Father’s warnings and he was barreling head long into destruction. The only though in his mind was trying to best his Sister.
If besting his Sister was his aim, then he certainly succeeded; He was doing something ultra stupid!
Hannah, realized that they were in trouble before Horace but it was too late for either one of them. Horace was approaching an enormous tree, no doubt it was the largest in the wood. He had hoped to climb the tree and take advantage of Hannahs fear of heights. Unfortunately, in his haste, he overlooked an outcropped root. The root caught the toe of his shoe and he crashed head first into the tree! Hannah watched in horror as the whole scene unfolded. She reached forward and grasped his jacket just as he was launched into the trunk. But instead of her jerking him away from the tree, it was as if some magical force pulled them both forward into the enormous wooden structure. Horace knew what was coming, he was about to face-plant into a Giant Oak.
You know it is crazy what goes through your head when accidents are happening. I suppose it is the realization of helplessness. It frees up the mind and gives you permission to ponder the past and the future. Take Horace for instance, his mind ventured to feature Sarah, the pretty girl in his Math class. You know, the one with the cute freckles. He is wondering what she will think of him without any front teeth and the reverse imprint of Oak bark permanently imprinted on his face. Maybe he can use the new scars to make him look like a hero, then she might think he is some kind of hero.
Hannah is wondering what the devil is going on. She is trying to figure out what is pulling them forward when she knows for certain she had jerked his coat more than hard enough to alter Horaces vector into the tree trunk. Then she starts wondering what Mom will say when she has to tell the real story about what happened. Mom is gonna be soooooo mad that Hannah actually played right into her brothers hands and got them both hurt. Hannah is supposed to be the sensible one. Just then, the thought occurs to her, Horace might die… no really, head trauma is a serious issue! But can brain trauma kill someone that does not actually USE their brain? In a flash she is back to trying to figure out how to explain this to Mom and Dad so that they will be certain that it really was ALL Horace’s fault.
Horace and Hannah alike both closed their eyes and braced for impact.
Incase you have never been through a magical situation before, you need to understand that the hardest thing about magical situations is that they do not make sense. Hannah and Horace are finding that out at this exact moment. You see, instead of having his face spread all over a tree, Horace went right through it. Actually, He and Hannah had both fallen through the tree. Not a hole or a crack in the tree mind you, they actually fell through the tree trunk. Something they supposed was solid wood turned out to be a doorway to another place.
Horace was the first to realize it because instead of a mouth full of bark he had a mouthful of dirt. He thought about playing opossum the same way he had done in the field when he tagged Hannah but his curiosity got the better of him.
Hannah was on top of him, she was so scared that he was dead that she did not want to open her eyes and see his disfigured head. What if she had to do mouth to mouth resuscitation… could she bring herself to do it? he might just have to die.
Hannah, um, where are we?
Where are we, Horace insisted.
Hannah, finally realizing that her brother was speaking which surprised her, opened her eyes. When she did she found herself pondering the same question Horace had just posed.
Hannah, are you seeing this?
Ok, Hannah, tell me that you see a bustling city that looks like it was from way back when Mom and Dad were growing up?
You Doofus! This looks like it is 150 years ago.
Yeah, like when Mom and Dad were kids.
Her Sisterly instincts were on their way to turning into full blown Motherly instincts when a lady wearing an earth brown dress and an enormous hat stopped beside them.
What on earth are you doing here, she queried? Never mind, just get up and be quick about it, she said as she reached down to help them up off of the ground.
Hannah was proud of her brother because he said, “thank you” before taking the Lady’s hand. That was very kind, thank you for helping us up. If you don’t mind me asking, where are we and who are you?
“Up with you now and hurry. I will answer your questions on the way but I cannot be late.”
In a flash they were both on their feet and the kind Lady with the huge hat was picking up her baskets and bustled off down the street. She turned and looked at the children as she walked, “are you coming?”
Hannah and Horace looked at each other as if asking for a better idea, but this seemed to be their best option.
Hannah caught up with the Lady and asked her again, “ So, where are we?” However, as soon as she asked the question she realized that Horace was not with them. As she turned to look for him he panted up beside them. She shot him a questioning glance.
“Bread crumbs,” he explained.
“What are you talking about?”
Just then Horace noticed that the Lady was carrying several large baskets. Actually they looked like basket- bags. Enormous grocery bags that were woven baskets.
“May I help you?” Addressing the Lady.
Aghast, the Lady turned and looked at him, “what good manners you have,” and reached him one of the baskets but before releasing it to him she looked him square in the eye, “These are VERY important!” Slowing her speech for emphasis.
The Lady then turned to answer Hannah. “I am me and you are here… with me.”
Hannah was glad the Lady addressed her, but she was quite unsatisfied with the supplied answer. Hannah looked at the Lady and started to ask another question but as she raised her gaze she saw the Lady smiling. The smile reminded her of her of the smile her Grandmother used when she had just said something that she knew was annoying.
Hannah smiled back and before she could get her mouth in gear to ask what she was thinking the Lady responded.
“My name is Nan. I am a Baker of Breads. My breads are very special. As of this moment I am out in town to deliver my breads to peoples that need them, and you are here with me.” Hannah, slowed her pace just for a second to look past Nan at Horace. He met her gaze. Seeing that his Sister was unsatisfied with the clarity of the answer, Horace followed up with, “where exactly is here and how did we get , um, uh, here?”
Before he finished posing his admittedly awkward question, Nan made a sharp right turn into a doorway and pushed the heavy wooden door open. Horace and Hannah kept step and after entering the archway the room opened into a gigantic feasting hall. There were people everywhere and each one was on a mission. Some were carrying vegetables. Others had trays of desserts. Hannah watched closely as two men rolled by an entire vat of freshly made ice cream. Horace noticed an especially attractive woman in an apron that had an entire prime rib roast she had just moved to a tray to be carved.
In a matter of seconds they were out of the hall and into a hallway. Nan turned and knocked at the second door, first on the left. A mans voice called out in aggravation from inside, “What now! What else could possibly go wrong!’
Hannah and Horace passed a smirk back and forth. They both knew that sounded like something Dad would say when he was at work. He fixed everything and as much as he liked fixing stuff, he always seemed bothered by the breaking.
Nan pressed the door open and walked into the room. Hannah and Horace peered in and Nan motioned for them to come in and close the door. Behind the desk sat a rather large man. When he stood up they noticed that he must have been 6’4” or better. Thick black hair and a thick black beard speckled with gray. Hannah though him handsome and Horace found himself a bit intimidated. The man looked like he had been cut from a mountain. He was putting down what Hannah and Horace assumed was a phone but it did not look like any device either one of them had seen before. In fact that was the moment they finally realized that even though their surrounding looked old fashioned they were surrounded by a different kind of technology
The Man, placed the device on his desk and looked up at Nan with a beaming smile. “Hello my Angel!”
Nan, without looking at the basket, reached in and pulled out a loaf of bread and handed it to him. “Oh, Marcus, you are such a flatterer. Here is your regular order and,” reaching into another basket, “here is your Christmas gift.”
Nan handed Marcus a beautiful loaf of bread that Hanna and Horace thought smelled like heaven. Marcus very graciously accepted the gift then gingerly peeled back the cloth it was wrapped in. Horace and Hannah could see the steam seep through and waft up into the air pressing the aroma farther into the room. The smile on Marcus’ face turned into a more sincere look of gratitude.
It was a short simple phrase but it said so much. Nan, curtsied and on her way back up caught the handles of her basket. She bade Marcus a Merry Christmas and took her leave. The children though had not moved. They, like Marcus, stood staring at the bread. It was not only aromatic it was beautiful as well. Nan, who had made her way almost out of the hallway, backed up to the door.
“We have a lot of deliveries to make children.” Then as is trying to snap them out of a trance, “Come on, let’s go!’
Horace and Hanna looked at Marcus, the hard, growly and cantankerous spirit was gone and in its place a soft sweet and thankful heart. “Merry Christmas,” He said. “Merry Christmas to all!”
Hannah and Horace returned the gesture and followed Nan out of the room. As they entered the great hall neither one of them noticed all of the hustle and bustle about them. Horace without looking at Hannah asked, “what was that? What just happened? It looked like a sweet roll wrapped up in another bread.”
Hannah shot a smile at her brother, “I think it was supposed to look like Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes.”
Nan had just reached the door, she pushed her back into the door opening it to the outside, “and lying in a manger. Very good, Hannah.”
“But why?” posed Horace, “and how? And how did that do what it did to Mr. Marcus? Are you a magician?”
“So many questions my child!“ Nan laughed. “Let me see; No, I am not a magician. Marcus just needed to remember what is really important and the loaf helped center him. Why… well that is not a short answer but here is a stab at it- God gave me a gift. For many years I did not understand how to use it. Now I strive to use it the best way I know possible, I help other people. I had an idea that if I were able to make a bread dough and then wrap it in another bread dough to look like the sweet Baby Jesus wrapped in his swaddling clothes for Christmas then maybe it would make people think about what really is important in life during these crazy hectic times.”
Hannah spoke up, “but how did that make such a change in him? He is a big huge guy and it looks like he runs that whole big place. How did your loaf of bread soften him up?”
Nan stopped walking and looked deep into Hannah’s eyes, “his wife lost a baby many years ago, I suspect that has something to do with it. He does have many people that work for him, and he truly loves those workers and their families. I am certain that some of them have young children and they touch his heart. You see, we are all trying to get through our struggle in life and if we focus on the struggle pretty soon that is all we can see. Baby Jesus is a reminder that our struggles, although very real and very serious, are not what we need to focus on.
So, when I told you I am a baker and I make special bread, it is because my bread is special to me; and I hope that specialness gets transferred with the loaf. Now, knock”
Hannah stood there stunned.
“Hannah, knock.” Nan insisted.
Hannah snapped out of her shock; that was too much information to take in at one time, she thought.
Nan, pointing with her head at the door to Hannahs right, “Knock.”
Hannah reached out and rapped on the door.
“Go away you pesky kids,” shouted a female voice from inside. “Too much to do, too much to do!”
Nan nodded at the door again. Hannah shook her head no. Nan smiled and nodded insistingly. Hannah drooped her shoulders and tilted her head forward. Horace grinned, He had seen this charade play out time and again with Hannah and Mom. He knew exactly what it meant, Hannah pulled this trick when Mom wanted her to do something that Hannah did not want to do. Next she would reach her hand toward the door and then turn to look one more time asking not to have to do it. In 3…2…1. Just like clockwork, Hannah turned to look at Nan. Nan nodded insistently and then scooped her nose upward as if pointing at the door with it. Hannah raised her hand to the door and Nan smiled softly.
Rap, rap, rap.
Heavy footsteps thudded to the door and it flung open exposing a surprisingly attractive woman. “I said I am busy, leave me alone!”
The woman reached for the door and started to slam it when Nan stepped up on the bottom stair tread. Nans presence changed the look on the woman’s face. Actually, Horace noticed that it changed her whole appearance.
“Well gracious be, Why did you not announce yourself, Nan? I thought this was just some meddling kids poking at my door.
The kids gathered in the next few minutes that Nan and the other Lady had known each other for years. They talked about all kinds of things. When they finally made it into the living room and onto the couch both Hannah and Horace noticed the walls were covered in photographs of families.
Nan made the usual delivery and then produced the same kind of Christmas gift that she had presented to Marcus. Beverly, their hostess, received the gift much differently than Marcus had. She through her arms around Nans neck and hugged her for a full minute.
Horace was certainly not comfortable. “Tears… why do women cry when they hug? That is the craziest thing ever!” He was mumbling under his breath as they were leaving the house.
“It most certainly is not!” Hannah was livid.
Horace said, “Oh yeah! What if Dad gave Papaw a Christmas present and they hugged and cried? Can you see that happening?”
“That is different,” why do you have to be such a… such a boy! You cannot understand anything. Tell him Nan.”
Nan just kept walking. Horace was starting to feel justified and Hannah was beginning to feel stupid when Nan finally spoke up.
“Horace, what did you think of our Hostess?”
“To be honest, She kinda acted like Mom. You know, but older. Like maybe when we are grown and have families of our own.”
“Very astute young man,” Actually she has three children and eight grand children. “I presume your Mother will be very similar in just a few years; although, Beverly lost her husband some years back. She washes clothes for a living. People from these parts come from far and wide to have her wash and mend their clothing. She is constantly working.“
Hannah piped in, “How do you know all of these people and so much about them? Do you know everyone around here? And why did Ms. Beverly need a hug when you gave her the Christmas gift?
“My, my! Both of you are just question machines, aren’t you. Well, now, Ms. Beverly is very busy just like Marcus and she needed the same thing he did just in a different way. I do know many of the good people that live around here but I do not know them all. And… I know them because I get out and about and they tell each other about how good my bread is. So sooner or later, they decide that they want to try it and they find out that the bread is good but having a listening ear attached to a closed mouth is worth three times as much as the bread.”
Hannah and Horace were silent, they remained so for several drop offs. They just watched Nan as she made her rounds and observed how she made everyone she met feel so special. They even noticed how she included them and made them feel special.
She really was a good baker. One of the customers had ordered extra and offered some to the kids. It was quite tasty; but she was more than a baker. Nan made everyone around her feel important.
By the end of the rounds Hannah and Horace had grown quite attached to their new friend. Maybe the bread she made was special because she made it or maybe because she made it special for each person; they were not for sure. One thing they were certain of and that was Nan was special.
Nan walked back into the bakery and it was crowded with people. Horace noticed the attractive lady from Mr. Marcus’s great hall. She was ordering three of the “Christmas special loaves.”
Hannah noticed that one Ms. Beverly’s customers was there with the freshly mended sweater Hannah hand noticed under one arm and a “Christmas special loaf” tucked under the other.
Nan tucked her baskets away and picked up a “Christmas special loaf” for each of them and walked them out the door. “Thank you for your help today, You made my deliveries much easier and a great deal more pleasant. Come back any time.”
“Come back. Oh my goodness Hannah! How do we Get back!”
Since neither one of them actually knew where they were or how they got there, how could they get back home? Mom and Dad would be worried sick and Hadrian would be there for Christmas dinner.
“I really don’t know Horace, what do we do?”
They both looked at Nan.
Nan smiled. She took each of their hands and walked over to the enormous Oak tree in the setting area beside her bakery. She placed their hands on the tree. “Just because I am not a magician does not mean that I do not know a little magic.”
She placed their hands together on the tree and smiled at them. Give your family my best. Oh, and Merry Christmas.
In a flash Hannah and Horace were standing back in the forest.
Hannah looked at Horace, “ was that for real?”
Horace, smiled at her and held up his loaf of bread, it sure smells real”
“You are such a guy, always thinking with your stomach!”
“Maybe, but I bet I can beat you home.” And with that Horace took off.
Hannah shouted out, “didn’t you learn anything? Walk in the woods, we can run when we get back to the field.
Horace hugged his Sister then he grasped her hand and said, “Nah, this is a good day for a Christmas walk with my favorite Sister in the whole world!”
They walked home carrying their loaves of bread and a thankful spirit.